Joseph Bova II has never lacked for surprises. The 31-year-old accused of murdering Zuheili Rosado at Palm Coast’s Mobil Mart on State Road 100 appeared in court today for jury selection in his trial. But today he wanted to fire his attorneys and have more time to prepare a defense representing himself.
The judge did not allow it.
“We’re here for jury selection,” Circuit Judge Terence Perkins told him. “This is a case I can’t even venture to tell you how many times it’s been continued, you know how better than I do how many times it’s been continued, so it’s time to go to trial.”
Bova’s defense is the paradoxical “not guilty by reason of insanity.” Bova claims to have been off his psychotic medication and uncomprehending of his actions when he shot Rosado, a mother of five, at point-blank range one night in February 2013. But his arguments this morning focused on who he wanted to represent himself, and why he didn’t want to deal with his chief attorney.
Perkins listened to Bova’s arguments with remarkable patience for more than 90 minutes as Bova stood before him, flanked by both his public defenders–Joshua Mosley and Matt Phillips.
Bova was twice found incompetent to stand trial in the past six and a half years. His court appearances have been rash, nerve-racking, unpredictable, grimly silent, and have included threats directed at the judge and claims about law enforcement. That’s when he’s chosen to make court appearances, which, on several occasions, he has refused to do.
Today he was talkative, lucid, at times even sharp, politely argumentative and persistent. Other than an insistence on interrupting either his attorneys or the judge, there was none of the weirdness that’s attended many of his previous appearances in court. Even his look was different–his head completely shaved of what had become a mop of unruly and clearly unwashed hair. His beard was shaved. He stood in a suit, as defendants at trial are allowed to do so as not to prejudice the jury with jail garb. Only his eyes still looked forbidding, sunken in swollen bags of skin around the sockets from what he’s claimed to be allergies.
“You’re competent to proceed. If there’s any doubt about it, you’ve resolved that doubt today,” Perkins told him. But Perkins allowed himself to be interrupted more than a dozen times as Bova kept pleading.
“Basically I’d like to represent myself so I can represent myself in a good way,” Bova told the judge, repeatedly claiming that Mosley won’t represent him the way Bova wants to be represented. It came down to a single issue: whether Mosley will ask an expert witness who examined Bova whether he found him to have been insane at the time of the shooting. Mosley says he wouldn’t ask the question because the doctor who examined Bova has already said that he would not call him insane then or now.
“He doesn’t want to ask the questions to point out that I was suffering from NGI at the time of the crime,” Bova said, using the acronym for “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.” Bova wants to “call more doctors,” or at least ask the same doctor the questions he wants to ask.
Mosley explained why that would not be a good idea. Perkins explained why it would not be a good idea for Bova not to listen to his own attorneys, and why it would be against his self-interest (Bova’s self-interest) to persist in denying his attorneys the chance to apply the strategy they’ve developed. It wasn’t exactly clear if Bova was really looking for a way to squeeze the desired testimony out of an expert witness–any witness–or if he was once again playing for time, as he appears to have done in the past. He tried by every means at hand to delay today’s trial, saying his mother, in Connecticut, would call a different doctor, or he could get the same doctor lined up to testify to somehow change his testimony–a suggestion Perkins said would demolish the expert’s credibility, which would hurt Bova’s case.
“This case is going to trial. Your expert has been deposed. The state’s expert is being deposed tomorrow, so all the opinions we’re going to have in that regard are in,” Perkins said. “We now know who the complete cast of characters are.” (Both of Bova’s parents will be testifying, as will Bova himself.) “I’m not continuing the trial, we’re moving forward on this trial with the cast of characters we already know.”
“This is my life this is my case this is my trial, I will represent myself, that’s all I have to say,” Bova said. “It’s my legal right to represent myself and I’m asking you to uphold that for me.”
This morning’s hearing before jury selection turned into what’s called a Faretta hearing, or inquiry, which the judge must invoke when a defendant requests to represent himself. The hearing is to determine whether the defendant is “knowingly and intelligently waiving the right to counsel,” according to the Florida Bar. The judge must then consider a series of questions, which include the defendant’s mental state, the complexity and seriousness of the charges, the potential sentence, the defendant’s experience with the legal system, and so on. It’s a defendant’s right to represent himself, but not necessarily a given, considering those questions and the timing of the request.
Still, Bova’s forceful demand this morning placed Perkins in a clearly difficult situation, having to deny Bova’s request even though Perkins himself had conceded on the record that Bova’s competence, and therefore intelligence and knowingness, was beyond question. That could raise issues on appeal of the decision not to allow self-representation–a step Bova said he would take immediately after the trial. “This is my life sir, what I’m saying to you is that I’m forced here to win this case and with this lawyer I’m not able to win my case,” Bova said. “If this man represents me I’m going to end up serving 50 years in jail.”
The prosecution–Assistant State Attorneys Mark Johnson and Jason Lewis–have not made a plea offer, but at the judge’s request this morning, they did: 45 years to life. Bova rejected it.
“It’s 45 that’s it, don’t even worry about a counter offer, it’s 45 to life,” Lewis said.
“I was going to say 25 years,” Bova said.
If Bova is convicted on his first-degree felony charge, he would face life in prison, with a minimum mandatory sentence of 25 years, the 25 years having to be served day for day. (He has already served six years.)
The matter of firing his attorneys having been resolved, Bova, dejected, then asked the judge if he had to show up to trial the rest of the time. “I wouldn’t want to waste everybody’s time,” he said.
The judge reminded him how bad it would look if the jury were to see an empty chair where the defendant was supposed to be.
Bova then spoke with his lawyers, replaying much of the hearing as the trio waited for the jury pool to file in. During jury selection, which took up the rest of the day, Bova sat, hands clasped much of the time, little interested–as defendants often are–in participating in the process: he would not speak to his attorneys, write too many notes or participate in the decisions to keep or dismiss a juror. He listened to everything that was said, he stared at the potential jurors as they spoke, he looked down at times, but otherwise he was back to his sullen self.
The trial is not expected to start with opening arguments until Wednesday morning at 9 a.m., in Perkins’s Courtroom 401.